The documentary "Tim's Vermeer" explores the work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.
"Tim's Vermeer" is an exquisitely fun documentary that hits on a profound aesthetic question, one first posed in 2001 by David Hockney: Did the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer use optical devices to achieve his visual poetics of light? Tim Jenison, a San Antonio video engineer, goes obsessed with knowing the answer. And so, in Penn and Teller's sly magic act of a movie - Penn narrates it, and Teller directed - Jenison attempts to re-create Vermeer's 1662 masterpiece "The Music Lesson," even though he’s no more of a trained artist than you or I.
By hand, Jenison builds almost every object in the painting - the floor tile, the carved harpsichord. And that's before he gets to the Herculean task of using a homemade camera obscura and mirror to fill in what is basically the ultimate paint-by-numbers diagram. How insanely meticulous is the work? Jenison paints the stitching of the tablecloth. And damned if, by the end of the film, he hasn’t painted his very own extraordinarily authentic-looking Vermeer.
"Tim’s Vermeer" is a uniquely suspenseful and fascinating movie, but does it really prove the theory that Vermeer painted with optical devices? I think it comes close. Yet the real richness of the film is the question behind the question: If this, more or less, is how Vermeer created his paintings, does that render his art inferior to what we thought it was? Only if you believe that technology and art are somehow enemies. The proof, after all, is in the pudding, or maybe I should say the painting. In "Tim’s Vermeer," unmasking art history's greatest trick only adds to its mystery.